Cocktails at Westmoor with Peter Wallace -September/October 2006
A visit to Westmoor's clubhouse
by: Elizabeth Stanek
photography by: Terry Pommett
“In front of the Westmoor Club’s yellow-shingled clubhouse, executive chef Peter Wallace shucks oysters, his contemplative state apparent amidst an atmosphere of summertime frivolity. Under a cerulean blue sky, kids in tennis whites chase forehands and smack overheads. A little girl in pigtails scampers past the blue hydrangeas up the flagstone walkway.
“They’re really easy to open, easy to clean, nice and briny,” says Wallace about the Sweet Neck Farm Oysters. As if handling precious jewels, he meticulously arranges the oysters on a bed of ice strewn with seaweed and lemons.
In blue rubber Crocs, Wallace stands behind the raw-bar boat, his own creation. “I love to work with my hands and build things,” says Wallace. “Cooking and woodworking are very similar – just the raw materials are different.” He also revels in making skiffs and wooden surfboards with his sons, Dylan and Connor. “Woodworking came naturally,” says Wallace, adding that having the winters off gives him ample time to pursue his hobby.
The seasonal restaurant business of Nantucket also appeals to Wallace, who enjoys bay scalloping in the winter. “I fish with Rick Kotalac, who owns Brant Point Marine,” he says. No stranger to the water, as a child Wallace sailed up and down the East Coast with his family. “Nantucket was always a stop,’ he says. “My parents honeymooned here.”
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, island life called, and Wallace came to Nantucket for the summer and headed south to St. Martin for the winter. Having cooked since he was 15 years old, Wallace has always been drawn to the restaurant world. “The restaurant business is very addictive,” he says. “If you like it and it likes you, you have a hard time replacing it.” He took his first job at the now defunct India House with Bob Kuratek and chef Peter Jannelle, who currently owns Fifty-Six Union. His next stop was as executive chef at Topper’s at The Wauwinet for nine years, until an opportunity arose at 2 South Beach Street, then The Second Story owned by David Toole. Under Wallace, it became Òran Mór.
“It was a dream to own a restaurant on Nantucket. It has always been a special space,” he says. Kathleen, his wife at the time, also fell in love with the rambling old house and together they renovated it. “We built a wonderful bar there,” Wallace says. Creatively incorporating finds from the island, the bar was built from the old portico of the electric company. “We canvassed the top of it. it was like the deck of a boat,” says Wallace. Further adding a touch reflecting Wallace’s love of sailing, gaff booms from Madaket Marine hung from the bar’s ceiling. “They were just sitting in the attic,” says Wallace.
He credits Kathleen with being an integral part of Òran Mór. “She has an incredible palate for wine, a great eye for detail, and ran the front part of house plus everything no one saw.” Wallace’s familiarity with Nantucket’s bounty was advantageous to the restaurant’s international cuisine. “Because I scallop in the winter and know the island so well, I know where to go for stuff. I have friends who catch fish, and my kids pick blackberries and jig for scup off the end of the jetties,” Wallace says. “It was really fun.”
Just as it’s best to leave the party when you’re still having a good time, Wallace sold Òran Mór after a nine-year run, to his former sous chef at Topper’s, Chris Freeman. “I decided to try the club business because of its different challenges and shorter season. Now that my kids are in college, I want to leave the island for the winter.” he says. Wallace has spent the past couple of winters traveling to such far-flung locales as South America, Nicaragua, Spain and France.
Now back on island for the summer season as executive chef at The Westmoor, he finds himself in more of a management role. “I spend more time ordering food and directing traffic then stirring the sauce,” says Wallace. “Getting into the club world is very different from the restaurant world.”
It’s afternoon now, and he sits in the main dining room, which looks out on the patio canopied with green market umbrellas. In the distance, Cliff Road houses perch above each other, their widow’s walks surveying the arriving ferries. “There are more outlets for different styles. For instance, tonight is a New England Clambake,” says Wallace, gesturing to the red-checked tablecloths. Members at Westmoor order from the restaurant menu three times a week, while the dinners the rest of the week are themed or for groups. “Many members are old customers of mine, so I’m familiar with their eating habits,” says Wallace. “The wonderful thing about Nantucket is that we get to live on this island and feed people with great palates and high expectations.” He raves about his sous chef, Tyler Gallant, who hails from Prince Edward Island, Canada. “He helped form the kitchen family we have.”
Wallace pauses when he talks, thoughtful with each response, even when asked what makes the perfect cocktail party. “Clean glassware, ice-cold vodka and perfect service,” he says with a laugh.
This winter, he hopes to pursue drinks of a different sort – restorative liquids. “I just bought this great space in Wilmington, Vermont,” says Wallace, who wants to convert the second floor into a retail space and the first floor into a store, which would carry wine and herbal remedies. The inspiration for the store came from his son’s girlfriend, who’s learning to treat people with herbs and tinctures. “I think she’s onto something,” says Wallace. “That’s my winter project.”
Wallace gazes out the dining-room windows, beyond the lush green croquet court and the rooftops of town. Bouncing tennis balls set the rhythm of the day, as cirrus clouds form and veil the sun. Wallace is brewing with quiet energy, evolving like the island storms he is inspired by. “The fog is serene and the Nantucket gales are angry,” he says.
While his future endeavors may be mercurial, Wallace’s passion for cooking shares the same quality of his beloved aspect of Nantucket. “It’s the ocean. It’s constant,” he says.